Gateways to the future?

New Library World

ISSN: 0307-4803

Article publication date: 6 May 2014



Baker, D. (2014), "Gateways to the future?", New Library World, Vol. 115 No. 5/6.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Gateways to the future?

Article Type: Editorial From: New Library World, Volume 115, Issue 5/6

This special issue of New Library World focuses on the future of libraries and the strategies which they should best adopt in order to respond effectively to significantly changed circumstances and requirements. A call for papers was issued, and a number of authors were directly commissioned. The results give a strong indication of the themes, trends and directions that need to be considered over the next decade and beyond.

There has always been discussion about the future of libraries and librarianship, and yet rarely, if ever, has the future been so difficult to forecast. It is easy to suggest that there is no obvious mainstream future for libraries of any kind, given the inexorable rise of the Internet, the concomitant replacement of traditional modes of communication by digitally based and end-user driven systems and services and the ever-tightening financial constraints that lead to radical reviews of the profession of librarianship and librarians’ future roles.

This issue, then, looks at the significant challenges facing librarians as they adopt new technologies and adapt to a world that can never be the same again. But all the authors in this special issue are able to paint a positive picture of developments, with a wide range of descriptions of how librarianship is transforming itself to help shape and lead information and resource provision and discovery in ways unimaginable even five years ago. Librarians have significant opportunities to seize – and are seizing – the high ground through strategic positioning.

Just as the concept of “the library” and the need for such an entity is under fundamental scrutiny, there are many and varied examples – as evinced by several of the papers in this special issue – that there remains a requirement for a physical place as much as a virtual space. What better way to forecast the future by asking students to design what tomorrow’s library buildings might look like and to justify their design decisions. The results are surprising: despite the dawn of the digital age, physical books remain significant to these next-generation readers, though the provision of spaces within their buildings is largely absent. These futuristic bricks-and-mortar environments are symbolic of what the new age of libraries and librarianship could and should be: user-centric and user-driven. The library is becoming a place of experience and outcome – a learning landscape and a social focus – as much as a repository of knowledge.

The future design of library space is further explored in two case studies on the development and use of renewed and re-energised library space models in an academic context. More strategic and integrative approaches are evident than before. Virtual and physical areas are being designed side by side. While technology is crucial in delivering library-type resources and services, space remains a fundamental need. Approaches therefore need to recognise a wide range of space types to facilitate and fulfill user needs to ensure maximum consistency, effect and impact. Flexible yet tailored space, incorporating multiple functionality and variable mixes of formal and informal usage, is the order of the day.

The library building may have a future, but what about library collections? The papers in this special issue stress the great diversity of libraries and library collections. And Yet what price collection management and development when everything is available via Google? Knowing the library’s users and ensuring that their needs are met quickly, efficiently and effectively are factors of fundamental importance. But when there are ever more ways of bypassing library provision, knowing the library’s non-users is just as important. Only by adding value to collections, content and services will there be a future for libraries and librarians. But users must realise and appreciate what is on offer from the library; effective marketing will be crucial.

Librarians are so challenged by change that it is easy to overlook the fact that they can be leaders and agents of it, especially when it comes to the field of innovative technology application. Open access provides an exciting opportunity in this regard, with librarians returning to the centre of the scholarly communications process.

The economic and financial aspects of library provision are often marginalised. This special issue does not directly cover this important area, which will instead form the focus of a special issue (volume 28, issue 1, 2015) of The Bottom Line that I will be guest editing. However, all the papers in the present publication refer to the significant resource pressures facing librarians and the need to justify investment and to demonstrate meaningful, economic as well as social and educational impact.

Hard evidence will be required. As Bruce Massis concludes, librarians and libraries must demonstrate rationalisation of, and innovation in, the library with the goal of ensuring a sustainable future for both the profession and the institution. Libraries must be viewed, not only as a symbol of stability in the community, but as innovators as well.

David Baker

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